Tag Archives: sundress

An Interview with Sundress Author, Colleen Abel

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As a poet, Colleen Abel is a shape-shifter. In her chapbook, Deviants, you’ll find couplets, flash CNF, lists, lyric essays, sectioned verse, and poems that morph across the page. What takes this formal variability to another level is that Colleen’s work is also about form—about the human body, about boundaries and celestial bodies and the Venus of Willendorf. These thirty pages are about a lot. We talked with Abel about Deviants, the way these forms find themselves, and how she found her way to poetry.

Colleen Abel’s Deviants won the 2016 Sundress Publications 5th Annual Chapbook Contest. Her first full-length collection, Remake, won Unicorn Press’ 2015 Editors Prize and is forthcoming in fall 2016. She is also the author of Housewifery, a chapbook (dancing girl press, 2013). A former Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellow at UW-Madison, Abel has published work in Pleiades, Colorado Review, The Collagist, Southern Review, West Branch, and elsewhere. She lives in Wisconsin with her student loans.

Sundress: What did you want to be when you were a kid?

Colleen Abel: I have always wanted to be a writer, from the time I was four. I wrote my first short story around that time, about a vampire and his wife. (I illustrated, as well, but happily I abandoned notions that I was a competent illustrator pretty much immediately.) But even though I always wrote poetry, when I was a kid, I saw myself becoming a novelist. It wasn’t until college when I was encouraged to do an MFA in poetry that I thought, hmm, maybe this is going to be my path. Not that you have to pick a genre and stick with it! The older I get, the less interested I am in staying within genre boundaries.

Sundress: How do your pieces find their form? Do you draft in the form a piece eventually takes, or do you think about form later?

Colleen Abel: I almost always draft a piece in the form it ends up with—the form dictates the intellectual and sonic moves the poem makes, usually, so I like to find the form first. It’s sort of like picking a vessel to hold the thought. But sometimes in revision, I do figure out that the vessel is wrong! “The Photographer’s Model” is an example of a poem that was restless in the original form I had chosen for it.

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Sundress:Formally, Deviants is a very eclectic bunch of poems, but the book’s foundation seems to be the 18-page piece titled “Fat Studies.” Speaking of genre, how do you classify “Fat Studies”?

Colleen Abel: I would say “Fat Studies” is a lyric essay. I have been trying to write about obesity for over a decade in my poetry and it never worked–not once. I couldn’t really figure out why. It wasn’t until I shifted my thinking about form that I was able to write about obesity in a way that I was happy with–and “Fat Studies” was the result.

Sundress: In “Fat Studies,” the speaker’s body is described as “deviant.” The piece goes on to investigate the speaker’s life and mind within this “deviant” body. How did this piece come about? Is this stigmatized subject you’ve dealt with before, or is it something that required the building of experience and courage to write about so directly, frankly, and beautifully?

Colleen Abel: As I mentioned, I’ve been wanting to write about obesity for a long time, but could never make headway. A couple of things happened right around the same time that broke open the essay for me. I was sitting in on a fiction class at the school where I was teaching at the time, in 2014. So I was thinking a lot about prose. Then I stumbled across the theories of stigmatized identities by the sociologist Erving Goffman. He had this list of ways that people could respond to having a stigmatized identity, and I immediately thought: that list would make a great backbone for an essay. The third thing was that I had read an essay about physical fitness by John F. Kennedy and was trying to write a poem about it (and failing; see above.) Somehow those three factors collided and “Fat Studies” was born.

Sundress: In “Poem Beginning With A Zen Proverb,” (which, is such a great title), you create a list poem of places to “hide your body.” What are other list poems you have loved or that have influenced you?

Colleen Abel: Great question. The list poem that I think I go back to the most is Kenneth Koch’s “One Train May Hide Another.” I’m fascinated by how list poems make their way toward endings. They are so hard to write!

Sundress: What’s something you used to believe about writing that you no longer think is true?

Colleen Abel: Wow. I can think of probably a hundred things, from small to hugely philosophical. I was very young when I went into my MFA program and for a while I think I absorbed a lot of the aesthetic preferences of my teachers and saw those as rules of a sort. Eventually, I shook those off–as writers need to do with their mentors, often. I had a teacher who thought poems shouldn’t have questions in them, for example, and for a long time I was scared to ask questions in poems. That’s a small example, but I think the more I read and write and live in the world, the more expansive my idea of poetry becomes.

Sundress: What are three things that every poem needs?

Colleen Abel: 1. Attention to language 2. Attention to arrangement 3. A desire to communicate something to an audience.

Sundress: Can you tell me a little about writing community? Where is yours? What is it like? What were the best writing communities you’ve ever encountered, and why?

Colleen Abel: I am about a month into a two-year writing fellowship. There are about a dozen of us who comprise the inaugural class of Tulsa Artist Fellows, so I am excited to see this fledgling community grow and evolve, especially since it’s multi-genre. I was very, very lucky to be a part of a small group that met frequently for several years in Chicago. I probably won’t ever find anything quite like that again, but I still carry their generosity with me even a decade later.

Sundress: What projects are in the works for you now?

Colleen Abel: [My full-length collection] Remake is coming out this spring! I’m super excited. I have a full-length collection called Caryatid that’s seeking a home, and right now I am just trying to generate work without thinking too much about how it will shape into a book. Wish me luck!

Colleen Abel is the winner of Unicorn Press’ 2015 Editors Prize for her collection Remake, which is forthcoming in fall 2016. She is also the author of a chapbook, Housewifery (dancing girl press, 2013) and a former fellow at University of Wisconsin’s Institute for Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in Colorado Review, Pleiades, The Southern Review, Phoebe, West Branch, and many other outlets. She was recently named a 2017-2018 Tulsa Artist Fellow.

Tyler Barton is one half of FEAR NO LIT, a literary organization focused on community-building, surprise, and discomfort. An MFA candidate at Minnesota State University, he edits fiction for the Blue Earth Review, co-hosts the radio show Weekly Reader, and leads writing workshops for senior citizens. He’s currently creating a flash-fiction podcast called SHOW YR WORK that will be available online this summer. This winter, you can find his short stories in Midwestern Gothic, Little Fiction, matchbook, NANO Fiction, and No Tokens (and you can always find his jokes at @goftyler). Tyler is originally from York County, Pennsylvania, where, once, as a teenager, he saw a sweatshirt that read “York’s Not Boring…You Are,” and his life changed.

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2016’s 30 Most Transformative Essays

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We asked our staff, editors, and authors to name the essays, published in 2016, that were most transformative and significant to them. The following essays represent a sampling of favorites.

We hope you find them as exciting, inspiring, and essential as we do.

A Tape Doesn’t Change a Goddamn Thing
by Karrie Higgins for Full Grown People

“I can no longer distinguish between the Trump campaign and sexual abuse. I can no longer distinguish between the past and the present.

just, adj:

based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair.

just, adv:

barely, by a little; very recently, the immediate past

I can no longer distinguish between tattling on my hometown’s Jerry Sandusky and voting for Hillary.

I am going to talk to that reporter. I am going to name names. I am going to say what I want to say. I am going to let the words fall out.

How We See One Another: Our Guest Editors Castro and Sukrungruang in Conversation

by the editors of Brevity

“I prefer compression.  I like the way compression and short forms are more possible, more available, for writers in straitened circumstances.  If you’re doing manual labor all day, or taking care of a child or elderly person, your mind can be turning over sentences and paragraphs; you can revise and revise and revise.  But you can’t hold long texts in your head—at least, most of us can’t.  Then, when you have five or ten minutes at the end of the day, you can write down what you’ve been composing in your head.  You can produce small gemlike pieces far more readily than long texts, which require—at least in my experience—more time, more solitude, more peace than poor people are usually afforded.”

But We Never ask Why Rapists get to be Anonymous Gorillas

by an anonymous contributor for Entropy

“Public conversations relentlessly revolve around the well-being of the rapist and not us: Whether or not he is believed. Whether or not someone is oppressing him by accusing him. Whether or not he was abused, too, and whether or not he was troubled with depression, oppression, or social problems. Public conversations demand we take every last step to understand and be empathetic to his psychology, even though he is an autonomous adult, fully capable of making the choice not to rape.”

When you Handle Poison

by Jennifer Tamayo for Mice Magazine

“Sitting with a group of women and sharing, one-by-one, our stories of abuse and assault and harassment in NYC’s poetry circles was upsetting though, at moments, empowering too. Voices cracking open a room saying you are not alone. And yet, later, walking home from the meetings, living with those accounts while doing dishes or taking the train, I felt and feel demoralized. Of course you are not alone. The proof is your bodies. There are many of them. Many more of them than you even know about or will know about.”

You Will Find me in the Starred Sky

by Keema Waterfield for Brevity

“You break teeth and dislocate your jaw in your sleep. Grinding, your dentist says. But: There might be more to it, your hypnotherapist says when you go in to quit smoking. So you regress to your three-year-old self and remember the first time you bit down. You were waiting for Ray to come back. You were ready to bite his throat out. Ready to protect yourself and your sister, one year younger, and you knew he would kill you for it. He never came back, but there you were with your jaw clamped ever after.”

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On Coupling: An Inventory

by Melissa Mathewson for Guernica Magazine

“I look to animals for proof that monogamy is an unnatural arrangement. I want their stories to align with mine, to find that they wander and digress so I can say, “See, I’m not wrong! All animals like to screw around.” It’s difficult to work out this complicated mess of biology, emotion, sexual freedom. There must be some kind of instinctive or innate justification that what’s real and true is our fundamental nature to roam and multi-partner.”

Not Wanting Kids is Entirely Normal

by Jessica Valenti for The Atlantic

“Today, American women have more public images of themselves than that of a housewife. We see ourselves depicted in television, ads, movies, and magazines (not to mention relief!) as politicians, business owners, intellectuals, soldiers, and more. But that’s what makes the public images of total motherhood so insidious. We see these diverse images of ourselves and believe that the oppressive standard Friedan wrote about is dead, when in fact it has simply shifted. Because no matter how many different kinds of public images women see of themselves, they’re still limited. They’re still largely white, straight upper-middle-class depictions, and they all still identify women as mothers or non-mothers.”

I Am Not Muslim But

by Ayşe Papatya Bucak for Asteri(x) Journal

“My mother is American; my father is Turkish. He is not a Muslim either. If they reopen and we are taken at least we will be in the camps together. My brother, too. I suppose I should wish for their freedom, but instead I wish for their company.

I don’t speak Turkish or Arabic, don’t know how to pray, don’t know how to be anything other than American; internment will be its own foreign country. But maybe I’ll have a lot of time to read, to study Turkish, to learn to pray.”

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The Mule Deer

by Debbie Weingarten for Vela Magazine

“Perhaps because I am an almost-mother, I do not think before scaling the fence. I am running into the open desert surrounding the farm, stepping across deep grooves the water has cut. The creosote bushes wear layers of sparkling silt. By the time I reach the clearing, the dogs have torn a hole in the side of the baby mule deer. Her round glassy eyes are wide, and she is screaming. The sound is almost human. She goes silent when she sees me.

Our dogs loll their pink tongues at me, sides heaving, drunk on the chase and the catch. They are saying, Aren’t you proud of us? Aren’t you? The alpha female, a gangly white giantess, stands nearest to the deer. Our two beloved mutts stand a few feet back in the brush, watching.”

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(Source: Bill Strain, via Vela Magazine)

I Know Why Poor Whites Chant Trump, Trump, Trump

by Jonna Ivin for Stir Journal

“I understood their fear and frustration. I’ve spent a great deal of my life living in poverty. It’s scary being poor, worrying that one parking ticket would mean I couldn’t buy groceries, or deciding whether I should see a dentist about a toothache or pay my trailer park fee. It’s humiliating and terrifying, but sitting around and crying about it isn’t an option because we know that the only thing more pathetic than someone living in poverty is someone living in poverty and crying about it. How many times have we been told to get a job, or that if we just worked harder we could improve our situation? Work harder. Work harder. Work harder. American society has made it perfectly clear: if you are poor, it’s your own damn fault.”

Arizaboesu

by Elizabeth Miki Brina for Hippocampus Magazine

“My mother’s name is Kyoko, which means “respectful” or “apricot” or “echo” or “from heaven” in Japanese depending on how it’s written. My mother was born in Okinawa in 1948, three years after the end of WWII, three years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, three years after the horrific Battle of Okinawa that destroyed one quarter of the island’s population and ninety percent of its buildings and infrastructure.”

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Marilynne Robinson talks religion, fear and the American spirit

by Michael Schulson for Salon

You write sincere books. What does it mean to be a sincere novelist?

I don’t know, I’ve never been called that before.

You’ve never been called that? Okay, am I totally misreading you here?

I tend to mean what I say. I think there is a self-protective impulse that takes the form of cynicism very broadly in the culture now. You make yourself vulnerable by suggesting that there’s anything you actually believe in.

People talk about American values. Yes, there are American values, things like democracy and generosity and so on. If we cannot say that these things are possible or characteristic, we don’t have them to orient ourselves by.”

US author Robinson smiles during an interview in central London
(Source: Reuters/Dylan Martinez, via Salon.)

Poetry Betrays Whiteness

by Lucas De Lima

“To inherit this blood-soaked history means many things.  As a writer, I need to go beyond the narratives of immigration or U.S. imperialism that are expected of me.  But neither is it enough to acknowledge my colonial lineage.  The guilt of proximity to whiteness is not enough.  White guilt is no recipe for aspiring race traitors.  What I need is something most of my elders don’t have.  I’m talking about a blueprint for solidarity and transformation.”

Gratitude is my Terrain: Maybe:”

by Renée E. D’Aoust for Sweet

“Sample of my daily list:

○    Do Chris Pei QiGong
○    Post review of Valerie Fioravanti’s book Garbage Night at the Opera
○    Faccio i compiti per il corso d’Italiano
○    Walkies
○    Finish Rain Taxi book review of Sarah Einstein’s Mot
○    Write
○    Grade papers from ENGL 101 & 102
○    Buy plane tkt MXP > AMS > MSP > GEG
○    Drink 2 cups of coffee max
○    Cuddle Tootsie”

My President was Black

by Ta-Nehisi Coates for The Atlantic

“In our conversations, Obama said he didn’t doubt that there was a sincerely nonracist states’-rights contingent of the GOP. And yet he suspected that there might be more to it. “A rudimentary knowledge of American history tells you that the relationship between the federal government and the states was very much mixed up with attitudes towards slavery, attitudes towards Jim Crow, attitudes towards antipoverty programs and who benefited and who didn’t,” he said.”

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(Source: Pete Souza / White House, via The Atlantic)

Apocalypse Logic

by Elissa Washuta for The Offing

“From 1953 to 1968, the U.S. government tried to wipe out some tribes by ending their relationships—withdrawing federal recognition of these tribes as sovereigns, ending the federal trust responsibility to those tribes, allowing land to be lost to non-Natives. The tribes terminated, for the most part, were those the U.S. government considered to be successful because of the wealth within their tribal lands: timber, oil, water, and so on. Terminating a tribe meant fully forsaking all treaty responsibilities to them.”

aunt-virginia-miller

(Source: “Aunt Virginia Miller” by Edward Curtis, 1910 courtesy of Library of Congress, via The Offing.)

Collection

by Chelsey Clammer for Hobart

“The concept of dust collecting on ashes intrigues me. Dead human skin cells accumulating on dead human body ashes. Fascinating. Mirroring my reaction to dust, I become curious about the story of what’s inside that little wooden box—the ashes, their abstraction. What parts of my dad—his body—I now keep near me. This time, my intrigue isn’t rooted symbolism or metaphor. This isn’t about religious beliefs or spirituality. It’s not about the cost of burial, or where we can go and what we can do to remember our dead.”

On Slaughter and Praying: An Essay in Two Parts

by Carol Ann Davis for The Georgia Review

“Again we’ve dragged the boys to midtown Manhattan, the both of them inclined instead toward the park or street food, toward anything else, but we go to Picasso Sculpture at the MOMA, explaining that rather than the flat paintings they critique as not as good as what we do they’ll be seeing sculpture, ideas made plastic. Some of the pieces, I’ve heard or read somewhere, are just folded paper napkins Picasso made to please a bored sister at a restaurant, the kind of thing the boys do when they’re feeling generous. I say this partly to entice and partly to annoy them. We’re inside an ongoing debate about the efficacy of modern art in general; their interest in winning it means they will be quiet through the rooms, assembling arguments for the drive home.”

What it Really Means to Hold Space for Someone

by Heather Plett for Uplift Magazine

“To truly support people in their own growth, transformation, grief, etc., we can’t do it by taking their power away (ie. trying to fix their problems), shaming them (ie. implying that they should know more than they do), or overwhelming them (ie. giving them more information than they’re ready for). We have to be prepared to step to the side so that they can make their own choices, offer them unconditional love and support, give gentle guidance when it’s needed, and make them feel safe even when they make mistakes.”

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Consider the Lobster Mushroom: being a brief theory of the craft of creative nonfiction

by Heidi Czerwiec for Brevity

 “Remind yourself of two things:

1.If you can’t deal with the mushroom now, it will come back. It will always come back, popping up whether you want it to or no, because it’s part of a larger system, mycelia feeding on what’s rotten, what lurks, always, beneath the surface. If you decide in the future you’re ready to pluck it and make something of it, it will be there, mushrooming.

2. You don’t have to reveal the source of your mushrooms. Few enthusiasts do, going to great lengths to conceal their sites by lying, covering their tracks. But most are happy to share the fruits of their labors, the fruited mushroom, the finished product, however fraught. You can share, without sharing everything.”

Watching And Reading About White People Having Sex Is My Escape

by Esther Wang for Buzzfeed

“I still don’t know what drew me in. It could’ve been boredom: I was a voracious reader, having little else to do but read, as my parents eschewed things like television, pop music, and movies — not out of any sort of cultural elitism or skinflint immigrant desire to deprive their children of as many opportunities to waste time as possible, but simply because they were too broke and too tired from working 12- and 15-hour days to think that we might want those distractions.”

Coming Apart

by Rebecca Solnit for Harper’s Magazine

“For many longtime residents of the Mission District, the fires, the evictions, the exploding housing prices, and the police killings of brown, black, poor, and homeless locals are not arbitrary events. They are instead related forces, all meant to drive out people like them. The anguish is so intense that five people camped in front of the Mission Police Station this spring, refusing to eat a bite, as part of a protest they called Hunger for Justice. The fast, which obliged throngs of restaurant and bar patrons to walk past starving, outraged people for several weeks, took place almost directly between Foodhall and the former food hall.”

I was Raped / I was Battered

by Kelly Sundberg and Melissa Ferrone

“Survey of the Damage:

One ceramic bowl shattered.

One busted foot.

One marriage over.

One fatherless son.

One homeless mother.

One career ended (hers, not his).

One yellow flier with a list of services available to victims.

One phone call to the community domestic-violence shelter.

One email from the director of residential services. She wanted her parking permit back.”

A Politics of Mere Being

by Carl Phillips for Poetry Magazine

“There are countless aspects to a self; race and sexual orientation are only two of them, it seems to me, neither the least nor the most 
important. It’s more accurate to say there’s a constant shifting of 
hierarchy, depending on any given moment in experience. Am I a gay black man when roasting a chicken at home for friends? Sure. But that’s not what I’m most conscious of at the time. Am I necessarily, then, stripped of political resonance at that moment? Or is not the sharing of food with others a small social contract analogous to the contract of giving and taking — of interaction — that we call citizenship in a democratic society? Is this a stretch? Can we only be political when we are speaking to specific issues of identity, exclusion, injustice?”

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(Source: Armando Veve, via Poetry Magazine.)

“All the Fierce Tethers

by Lia Purpura for the New England Review

“Often, however, the most intricate systems are identified first by way of their ruin. One comes to know them only briefly in their magnificence, before news of their loss takes up its platform, then overtakes the conversation—and rightly, since the conversation is finally urgent.

The snowshoe hare once lived by a system perfectly emplaced, a fluent method, ardent, elegant, brimmed with muscle, cunning, and flight.

Stay with me now. I’ll slow it way down.”

Of Mice and Memory

by Staci Schoenfeld for The Manifest Station

“When you get home (after a stop at the bakery for cupcakes), you open the package and pull open the back of the trap, and proceed to slather it with the name-brand peanut butter you have always loved. Only the real thing for this Midwestern mouse. If you were in San Francisco still, you would have gone for the organic stuff. After you maneuver the back panel back into place, a feat requiring more intense hand-eye coordination than you would have expected, you set the trap on the stove where you last saw the poop and you wait.

You expect the mouse will be caught that evening.”

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Untethered from Product or Object: An Interview with Diane Seuss

by Emilia Phillips for 32Poems

“When I sit to write, my body/mind seems to naturally visit this pool, and others like it, spring fed sites that have garnered the energy of archetype through years of revisiting. Even if I am not writing that scene, it primes me for a dive, and I guess, for me, that is the source of everything, where the unbearable gives birth to language and imagination. Maybe that’s the baby my father’s ghost is carrying. This is probably less muscle memory than the figurative poetic muscle you reference. It represents a memory site of complex, incompatible feelings—tenderness, resistance, fear, love, horror, sweetness—that the language in poems can approach.”

Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid

by Rufi Thorpe for Vela Magazine

“It was pure joy to see my friend after so long. Just laying eyes on him made me glad; he had grown a Freddy Mercury mustache and was wearing a weird child’s size sweater and I loved every inch of him. Out of our mouths flew sentences too fast to filter, so desperate were we to tell each other everything, to make clear what had happened in the last ten years. I found myself, as I crammed my thighs into my shapewear, saying, ‘Oh, well, I love my husband, he is the perfect man for me and it was love at first sight, but I would never willingly enter into this state of servitude again.'”

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(Source: Siestas, via Vela.)

Literary Juneteenth (or Why I Left The Offing)

by Casey Rochetau for The Offing

“Later that same day, I went out to dinner with two other black women poets, one of whom had invited Darcy to join us. I was wearing a shirt that reads “Ratchetness as Praxis” and, in all likelihood, talking too loudly in mixed company — go figure. At a audible downslope in the conversation, someone asked what praxis meant. I offered an adequate definition that included a Foucault reference, but Darcy still insisted on looking it up on her phone. I guess she thought I would wear a shirt emblazoned with something I couldn’t define, or maybe she assumed my field of expertise was ratchetness. Her behavior may sound minor, but evidentiary information sometimes does. In that moment, I barely batted an eye. In fact, it was only upon reflecting on all the instances that led up to the tweet, and my subsequent resignation on Twitter, that it even struck me as out of pocket.”

Black in Middle America

by Roxane Gay for Brevity 

“Friends in cities have long asked me how I do it—spending year after years in these small towns that are so inhospitable to blackness. I say I’m from the Midwest, which I am, and that I have never lived in a big city, which is also true. I say that the Midwest is home even if this home does not always embrace me, and that the Midwest is a vibrant, necessary place. I say I can be a writer anywhere and as an academic, I go where the work takes me. Or, I said these things. Now, I am simply weary. I say, “I hate it here,” and a rush of pleasure fills me. I worry that I can’t be happy or feel safe anywhere. But then I travel to places where my blackness is unremarkable, where I don’t feel like I have to constantly defend my right to breathe, to be. I am nurturing a new dream, of a place I already think of as home—bright sky, big ocean. I know the where and the why and even the who might be waiting there. I just need to say when.”

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(Source: Chris Strong, via Chicago Magazine.)

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Project Bookshelf: Lauren Perlaki

Last month, I moved to a new place. It was much to my surprise (and delight) to discover that one of my bedroom walls came adorned with a set of built-in shelves. What a perk. What I failed to realize was that because these shelves were without sides, I would need bookends to keep my things propped and in place. Alas, I did not have bookends to spare, so I made do (as you can see) with books for bookends – my “book-bookends.” While they aren’t the prettiest set of shelves, they do the job. From stacks of old journals to beloved books, these shelves house all that I currently have space to hold dear. They also function as a place for my Post-it® sticky notes, mason jar of writing utensils, and trusty alarm clock to call their own. Hands down, the bookshelf wall is the coolest wall my bedroom has to offer.

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Lauren Perlaki is a senior at Kalamazoo College double majoring in Art History and English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. She is also pursuing a concentration in Media Studies. When she isn’t furiously working to meet a deadline, or cramming 500+ years worth of art into her noggin, she can be found singing with her a cappella group, searching for a decent cup of coffee, or going on about how great the music scene is in Kalamazoo. She is a co-editor-in-chief of Kalamazoo College’s annually published literary and visual arts magazine, The Cauldron, and a lover of modernist literature.

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An Interview with Katie Longofono

Katie Longofono is the author of Angeltits (Sundress Publications, 2016). Her poems traverse between intimate and breathtakingly visceral imagery, between narratives on the body and the objectification of bodies, into a lyrical testament and commentary on sex and modern-age relationships.

Longofono spoke with our editorial intern Brianna McNish to discuss her literary inspirations, her writing process, and the influences that helped create the poems in Angeltits.

Brianna McNish: What were your biggest literary inspirations while writing Angeltits, and why?

Katie Longofono: As I recall, I was reading a lot of essays and fiction at the time I was working on these poems. I had just finished my MFA, so I guess that was my rebellion from soaking in poems pretty much exclusively for two years. Specifically, I think I was re-reading Mary Reufle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey, which has some great thoughts on sentiment which stuck with me. I was (and remain) super into being overly sentimental, or obvious, on purpose, in poetry. I’m the kind of weirdo who thinks it’s fun to see how many times I can say “very” in a poem without inducing gagging (or maybe in order to). I played with that idea a lot in these poems, I think.

I also was very inspired by Plath’s journals, which most people would be able to point to immediately. Lots of anger at men, etc. You know the drill!

BM: What left me in awe about your poems was how your fixation on bodies creates beautifully visceral language. What does the body represent in your poetry, and why do you use it as a common motif in your work?

KL: I guess this might be a disappointing answer, but really the body represents… the body. These are all poems that are pretty explicitly about sex. Sometimes it’s joyful, but now that I’m looking at it, yeah, these are poems about the ways a body can be in pain, the ways a body can let itself be hurt, the ways sex reveals the bodies’ soft spots and the aftermath of that vulnerability. I’ve always been fixated on the body in my work. I’ve written ecstatic body poems in the past, but for this collection, the central idea was objectification—hence the title, Angeltits—because so often women are reduced to their bodies. Fine, dudes, you wanna play that game? I’m gonna lean into it, then. Here’s an entire book about tits. It’s not sexy. You’re welcome.

BM: How would you describe your writing process?

KL: It’s definitely a cycle—I’m not one of those people who can sit down and write every day. I have, for short bursts of time, been able to force myself into that routine, but mostly I just try to remain aware of when I feel ideas forming and allowing myself a moment to write them out. I was lucky to have a pretty low-pressure job at the time I was working on Angeltits so I could easily switch into writing mode for the amount of time it took me to at least jot something down.

BM: What’s also striking about your chapbook is how the poems develop from “Who can fault me for loving / the fault, for tonguing the crack / we crumble within?” in “Dollface” to “I am not a bird or a symbol. / I am a woman burning,” in “We Grind Ourselves Out”. The poems unravel in a linear fashion with effortless transitions from the next poem to the next, which leaves me curious about how you would describe the development of the women who inhabit these poems from “The Outline” to “[When a man says no]”?

KL: Well, people are complicated. It’s amazing and weird that a person can hold defiance, rage, and two middle fingers inside the same body that also holds shame, loneliness, and hurt. It’s really difficult to capture all of that in one poem, let alone one book, so this was my attempt at trying to get all of those angles. A big part of this series was thinking about how (personally) I often feel victimized because of my body, but not like a victim—I really resent that label. That comes out in these poems—there’s a lot of anger here, a lot being challenged because I think it’s reductive to put people into boxes.

BM: What is the best piece of advice you have received as a writer?

I’ve received a lot of helpful advice over the years, so this is hard to narrow down—but what comes to mind is early on somebody told me, at the end of the day, you get to call the shots. You can (and should) listen to advice, tips, workshopping comments, whatever, but you don’t have to use it all. It’s your writing and your process. It was really helpful for me to basically be given permission to ignore advice if I didn’t think it was coming from a useful place for my writing.

KL: If you could describe yourself as a poem, which poem would you be?

A dirty limerick. I think this question was probably meant for a specific poem but I don’t feel justified in comparing myself to any of the poems I admire!

Katie Longofono’s Angeltits is available as an e-chapbook on Sundress Publication’s website here.


Katie Longofono received her MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College, where she directed the 2014 SLC Poetry Festival. She is the co-founder of Dead Rabbits Reading Series, a monthly literary salon that takes place in NYC. Her first chapbook, The Angel of Sex, was published by Dancing Girl Press in 2013. She has a chapbook forthcoming from Sundress Publications titled Angeltits. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Tinderbox Poetry Journal, South Dakota Review, Juked, Midwestern Gothic, and more. She may or may not be on Twitter. She lives in Brooklyn.

Brianna McNish is an undergraduate student studying English and literature at the University of Connecticut. Her fiction has previously appeared in or forthcoming in Literary Orphans, Juked, Unbroken, among others.

 

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Sundress Academy for the Arts’ CookBook, Featuring Poet and Filmmaker Nicole M. K. Eiden

CookBook, a video podcast branch of Sundress Publications, is pleased to announce the latest episode featuring poet, filmmaker, and award-winning baker Nicole M.K. Eiden. This episode, as well as all previous episodes, can be found on our website.

nicoleCookBook is a video series brought to you by SAFTA, and hosted by poet and food-enthusiast Darren C. Demaree. Each episode features Demaree and guest as they prepare food (recipe provided by the guest) and have a conversation about anything and everything. Guests on CookBook range from writers, artists, musicians, publishers, and community members, and come from all corners of the world.

Join Darren and Nicole as they prepare an amaretto pear and dried cherry leaf lattice pie and discuss her poetry, Ohio, and the challenges of baking in 90-degree weather.

Darren C. Demaree is living in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children. He is the author of five poetry collections, and is the recipient of six Pushcart Prize nominations. Currently, he is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry.

Nicole M. K. Eiden is an award-winning poet and filmmaker whose work captures the simple challenges and beauty of ordinary life. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, she has made New Orleans her home for the last seventeen years. Nicole holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in film from the University of New Orleans and a Bachelor of Communications degree in video production from Ohio University.

For more information regarding CookBook, check out our website, and be sure to follow us on Twitter (@SAFTAcast) and Facebook!

 

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2016 Sundress Publications Open Reading Period Results

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Sundress Publications is thrilled to announce the results of the 2016 Open Reading Period. Following is a list of the winners, finalists, and semi-finalists chosen from this year’s submission period. Our staff has picked the following manuscripts for publication as part of our 2018 catalog: Citizens of the Mausoleum by Rodney Gomez, Phantom Tongue by Steven Sanchez, and The Minor Territories by Danielle Sellers.

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Rodney Gomez’s chapbooks are Mouth Filled with Night (Northwestern University Press, 2014), Spine (Newfound, 2015), and A Short Tablature of Loss (Seven Kitchens Press, forthcoming). His work has been awarded the Drinking Gourd Chapbook Prize, the Gloria Anzaldúa Poetry Prize, and the Rane Arroyo Prize. His poetry has appeared in various journals including Denver Quarterly, Barrow Street, Blackbird, Pleiades, Diode, Puerto del Sol, Salt Hill, Drunken Boat, and RHINO, where it won the Editors’ Prize.

stevenSteven Sanchez is a CantoMundo Fellow, a Lamb
da Literary Fellow, and his first full-length  poetry collection, Phantom Tongue, was selected by Mark Doty as the winner of Marsh Hawk Press’ Rochelle Ratner Memorial Award.  He is also the author of two chapbooks: To My Body (Glass Poetry Press, 2016) and Photographs of Our Shadows (Agape Editions, forthcoming).  His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Nimrod, Poet Lore, Crab Creek Review, Assaracus, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and The Cossack Review, among other journals. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Fresno State University and teaches at Fresno City College.

Danielle Sellers is from Key West, FL. She has an MA from The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University and an MFA from the University of Mississippi where she held the John Grisham Poetry Fellowship. Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Subtropics, Smartish Pace, The Cimarron Review, Poet Lore, and elsewhere. Her first book, Bone Key Elegies, was published by Main Street Rag. She teaches Literature and Creative Writing at Trinity Valley School in Fort Worth, Texas.

 

 

 

FINALISTS

River Mouth, Heather Dobbins
Get Sorrow Out If That’s What That Blackbird Is, Susan Grimm
Suturing the Dark, Megan Merchant
Book of Levitations, Jenny Sadre-Orafai and Anne Champion
Afakasi Half-Caste, Hali F. Sofala
Chiaroscuro, Vanessa Stauffer
Shahr-e-jaanaan Adeeba Talukder
The Woman Reader, Theodora Ziolkowski

SEMI-FINALISTS

Rare Wondrous Things, Alyse Bensel
The Ghosts of Lost Animals, Michelle Bonczek
A Drugstore Blue, Susan H. Case
Delhi Documents, Declan Gould
From the Hotel Vernon, Lea Graham
Eyelets Under Sun, L.I. Henley
How the Letters Invent Us, Rebecca Olande and Elizabeth Paul
Momentary Turbulence, Brad Rose
Indoor Horses, Sarah Sloat

Sundress Publications is a (mostly) woman-run, woman-friendly non-profit publication group founded in 2000 that as well as publishes chapbooks and full-length collections and hosts a variety of online journals anthologies including Best of the Net Anthology.

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An Interview with Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo

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Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo is the author of the forthcoming collection of poetry Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge  (Sundress Publications, 2016). Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge is a feminist collection of poetry straddling borders, and arose when daughter of Mexican immigrants, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, traveled from Los Angeles to the Tucson-Sector of the U.S.-Mexico border in August 2011 to volunteer with the humanitarian aid organization, No More Deaths. She hoped to gain a concrete understanding of the “wall,” and the result was a book illustrating a speaker driven to activism by a need to honor her family’s journey.

Bermejo spoke with our Editorial Intern, Kristin Figgins, about her influences, her family, the work that helped inspire the collection, and more.

Kristin Figgins: Cacti are present throughout Posada.  What do you find so intriguing about the cactus as a plant or as a symbol?

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo: Before I went to the Tucson-sector of the border, I imagined it as a sandy, desolate plain vacant of any life. But when I got there, I found breathtaking peaks and canyons as well as all kinds of animals and vegetation. I think I was drawn to the cacti for their resilience in inhospitable terrain, and I found their blooms hopeful. They turned into a symbol for the people crossing in the area.

With the prickly pear cactus, the nopal, I feel a connection to my grandmother and my Mexican heritage when I see them. I like how they grow wild all throughout California, and how they can thrive with so little. They make me feel proud.

KF: Many of the poems in Posada are after other poets.  Who are your biggest inspirations or influences as a writer, and why?

XJB: The biggest influence is Carolyn Forche’s The Country Between Us. She doesn’t have a poem in my book, but when I read her poetry in grad school, it was the first time I saw how my passion for activism and my poetry could marry. I don’t know that there would be a Posada without Forche. Another great influence was Michele Serros’ Chicana Falsa. I thank her in the acknowledgements because I read her book around my 3rd or 4th revision, and I fell in love with her voice and how unpretentious she is. After reading Chicana Falsa, I went back into my poems and tried to simplify–to look for those spots where I was trying too hard. I’ve always felt dumb, and had a fear of people discovering that, and because of that I sometimes overcompensate, so I was really thankful for the reminder.

KF: There are many beautiful relationships in Posada: mothers, daughters, aunts, and grandfathers.  How much do you draw upon the real relationships in your life in your poetry?

XJB: This collection was written for my grandparents and my parents. I don’t know what will happen with future poems, but this one was all about them. From a young age, I knew my parents were immigrants, and I was interested in their stories and celebrating immigrant stories. I think I was always acutely aware of negative words, sentiments, and policies toward immigrants when I was a kid because that meant mom and dad. I wouldn’t have gone to the border if it weren’t for them. They are a huge part of my poet identity, and they are huge supporters of my work. In Sandra Cisneros’ new memoir, A House of My Own, she talks about how she had to move away from her family to be a writer. But for me, I couldn’t be a writer without my family.

KF: You write at the end of Posada that you were influenced by your work with the humanitarian organization No More Deaths, which polices the Mexico-U.S. border.  How did that experience inspire or influence your writing?

XJB: I wouldn’t call it policing. They patrol migrant trails for support, medical care, and to be a witness to Border Patrol atrocities–but they aren’t policing anyone. They are fighting for accountability.

When I went to the border, I was two years out of an MFA program. I thought I was writing a book, but I didn’t really know what I was writing about. When I went and worked with No More Deaths, my book got its center, and I had something to put the other poems into context. I didn’t really have a book until I went, and though only half of the book is about the desert, it’s all in context with that journey, who the speaker is, and why she went.

KF: Posada is very interested in borders, not just in the sense of the Mexico-U.S. border, but also in the sense of pathways, being lost, and not quite fitting within the tidy borders of the world.  Do you think poetry can help people feel like they have more structure, tidier borders as it were, or can help them feel found?  Is this true for you?

XJB: Gregory Orr’s book, Poetry as Survival, talks about how writing a poem helps to bring order in chaos, and I definitely think that’s true. Through a poem, I think it is possible to create new structures, new understandings, and break out of old patterns. I think I wanted the poems about being lost or not fitting in to be a comfort.

KF: Throughout Posada, you play with language and what it means to be bilingual.  One of my favorite poems is “to chew     the empty spaces,” which omits articles and some prepositions, a common grammar “mistake” of bilingual individuals.  How does being bilingual influence the way you think about language?

XJB: I wouldn’t call myself bilingual. I grew up in a Spanish speaking home, the youngest of four, and though my two oldest brothers are fluent, me and my other brother aren’t. I was spoken Spanish to my whole life. My grandparents only spoke Spanish, but with my parents, I always answered them in English. So I know Spanish, and when I speak it, it sounds pretty good, but I’m not fluent. I tried to show that with “Ode to Pan Dulce” with the way the Spanish weaves in and out. I feel like that’s how Spanish feels in my ear and on my tongue, it comes and goes without much thought. With the first half, I was trying to illustrate that sense, but with the second half, I wanted the Spanish to honor the language of the people I came into contact with as their first language.

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KF: “Meditation for Lost and Found” opens with a quote from Jorge Luis Borges and then follows a labyrinthine pattern.  Other poems, like “Photograph of a Secret” seem to flirt with magic(al) realism.  Do you ever find yourself inspired by Latin American authors like Borges, who use magic(al) realism as a way to portray the emotional reality of the daily lives of people living in countries that are dealing with economic and political upheaval?

XJB: Those two poems are heavily influenced by Borges and the possibilities held in a moment. I like to use magical realism to find possibilities when there don’t seem to be any, or to create some purpose, honor, or visibility when there isn’t any. “Meditation for the Lost and Found” is for the desaparecido, a word that has no direct translation in English, but means those who cease to be, disappear from the world without a trace, usually at the hands of a corrupt government. My hope with that poem is that by forcing the reader to focus on the words through its strange form, I am making a journey, a life visible again. I try to do something similar in “Our Lady of the Water Gallons.” The poem is intended to be the safe place because there are no safe places in the desert.

KF: What book is on your nightstand right now?

XJB: I just finished the YA novel, Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan. It’s about a 13 year-old girl who immigrates to the US from Aguascalientes, Mexico when her family experiences a tragic change of fortune. It’s a Depression era book, and I’m reading it for inspiration for my current project, which is a novel set in 1930s California.

KF: What piece of advice have you been given that was instrumental to your development as a writer?

XJB: Eloise Klein Healy told me to push myself to be personal and to do the work. It was her advice that encouraged me to volunteer with No More Deaths, so it was pretty instrumental in the development of this book. Before that, I was doing a lot of persona poems on immigrant stories I found in history books, mostly from the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese Internment. Her advice made me realize why I cared so much about immigration rights and reform, and it all stemmed from my own parents.

Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge is now available for pre-order with free shipping from Sundress Publications!

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Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo is a first generation Chicana born and raised in San Gabriel, California, who fondly remembers weekends spent haciendo traviesos with her cousins around her grandparents’ Boyle Heights home. She wrote this collection while living in a house in the shadows of Dodger Stadium in historic Solano Canyon.  Bermejo is a 2016-2017 Steinbeck fellow and was previously honored as a Poets & Writers California Writers Exchange poetry winner, Barbara Deming Memorial Fund/Money for Women grantee, and Los Angeles Central Library ALOUD newer poet. Her poetry received 3rd place in the 2015 Tucson Festival of Books literary awards and has been published with The American Poetry Review, The Acentos Review, CALYX, Crazyhorse, and Tahoma Literary Review among others. She has received residencies with Hedgebrook, the Ragdale Foundation, and is a proud member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop. In Los Angeles, she is a cofounder of Women Who Submit, a literary organization using social media and community events to empower women authors to submit work for publication, and curates the quarterly reading series HITCHED. She received a BA in Theatre Arts from California State University of Long Beach and an MFA in Creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles where she is currently a book coach and workshop instructor with the inspiration2publication program.
Kristen Figgins is a writer of fabulism, whose work has appeared in such places as The Gateway Review, Sleet Magazine, Hermeneutic Chaos, Sakura Review, Menacing Hedge, and more. Her story “Track Me With Your Words, Speak Me With Your Feet” was winner of the 2015 Fiction Award from Puerto del Sol, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Micro Award, and Write Well Award. Her first chapbook, A Narrow Line of Light, is available for purchase from Boneset Books and her novella, Nesting, is forthcoming from ELJ Publications in the Summer of 2017.

 

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New CookBook Features Essayist Amanda Page

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CookBook, part of of Sundress Publications, recently released the first episode of
 2016/17 season featuring teacher and essayist Amanda Page. The latest episode, as well as all episodes from the previous season, can be found on our website.

CookBook is a video series brought created by the Sundress Academy for the Arts and hosted by poet and food-enthusiast Darren C. Demaree.  Each episode features the making of some food (recipe provided by the guest) and includes a long conversation about anything and everything.  The guests—which range from an eclectic group of writers, artists, publishers, community members, musicians, and ecstatics—come from all corners of the world.

Host Darren C. Demaree brings charismatic charm that complements featured writers and their prepared dishes. Darren C. Demaree is living in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children.  He is the author of five poetry collections.  He is the recipient of six Pushcart Prize nominations.  Currently, he is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry.

Guests on CookBook offer a comprehensive range of various authors across the country. Join Darren and Amanda as they discuss Sandra Cisneros and Alabama all while cooking a delicious peach cobbler.

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Amanda Page teaches writing and humanities courses to nursing students at a single purpose institution. She earned an MFA in creative writing from the University of Alabama and holds a Bachelor of Specialized Studies in Writing & Women’s History from Ohio University. She writes about personal finance, student loan debt, higher education, and the art of the personal essay for various print and online publications. Learn more about her work at amanda-page.com.

 

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Project Bookshelf: Taylor Gray’s Work in Progress

Here, against a drab apartment wall, is my pitiful bookshelf. Unfortunately, most of my books are in Nashville, stacked at the end of my childhood bed, guarded by my favorite cat. Until I can move my beloved books to Knoxville, I am stocking this bookshelf with textbooks and my McKay’s finds. So far, I have a small collection of thrillers, a couple of classics, and some anthologies of American literature (my favorite kind of textbook). I’m always looking to better my writing, so I also have ten or so books on style, word choice, and writing techniques. I bought a copy of David Morrell’s Creepers, my favorite book, because I couldn’t live without it. It is a work in progress, and I will spend far too much money at McKay’s this year. Any suggestions for my next trip?

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An Interview with Jessica Rae Bergamino

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Jessica Rae Bergamino is the author of The Desiring Object or Voyager Two Explains to the Gathering of Stars How She Came to Glow Among Them (Sundress Publications, 2016). She sat down to talk to our editorial intern Adam J. Gellings about process, influence, and more!

Adam J. Gellings:  The Desiring Object OR Voyager Two Explains to the Gathering Stars How She Came to Glow Among Them, is a wonderful combination of space & scientific exploration, crafted beautifully into these light, almost buoyant poems that float across the page. Could you speak about the conception of these topics, & how they all came together?

Jessica Rae Bergamino: First, thank you Adam for such a generous reading of The Desiring Object and for these thoughtful questions!

I first became interested in the Voyager mission’s emergence as contemporary mythology while listening to Ann Druyan’s discussion of the project on WNYC’s Radiolab.  These antiquated robots — without enough memory to play an MP3! — are floating through space with a golden record encoded with, among other things, the brain waves of a woman falling in love.  I wanted to explore what would happen if that knowing of oneself as something that can both desire and be desired was transferred on to their robot bodies. As the project evolved it became my love letter to queer femme resilience and the ways femmes constantly evolve the boundaries of desirability.

AJG: Other than poets, were there any other outside influences that were formative to the poems in this collection coming together?

JRB: Along with re-watching the original Cosmos, I read as much about the Voyager project as I could. I was lucky to have access to some amazing primary source material through a university library, including recordings of the congressional hearings on the project and maps of moons made from the Voyager observations and flybys. Two books, though, were particularly instructive: Murmurs of Earth, which explores the contents and creation of the Gold Records, and The Voyager Neptune Travel Guide, which is a weird little book prepared by NASA to orient Earthlings to the interstellar mission. It has a flip book of Voyager’s approach to Neptune!  It also has incredibly detailed explanations of what each of Voyager’s scientific instruments do and how they work.

AJG:  There is a playful rhythm to many of these poems as you read through them. Most notably in pieces such as ‘Ultraviolet Spectrometer” & “Triaxial Fluxgate Magnetometer,” where the reader is brought back to a single word or sound to bounce off of from each line. I wondered if you could talk a little about the construction of these poems in particular? How did you know when they were complete?

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JRB:  Each section of The Desiring Object is titled after a scientific instrument that composes the Voyager’s bodies and the corresponding text explores, however tangentially, the work of that instrument.  I wanted to anthropomorphize Voyager Two without stripping away her scientific realities and hoped I could reverse engineer Charles Olson’s ideas about projective verse as if the typewriter were experiencing the text, not the poet. The ultraviolet spectrometer measures light, so it lent itself to the opening poem, and I loved the visual rhyme between the ultra-poetic O – invocation and exhalation, whole and hole, planet and a mouth, boundary and unending loop, etcetera, etcetera  – and the binary 0.

At the same time that the list of scientific tools provided a great constraint, I knew I couldn’t commit to a linear narrative of psychological development wherein each section had a clear resolution and the next section presented an entirely new challenge — the poems needed to experience technical glitch, repetition, and failure. The triaxial fluxgate magnetometer measures magnetic fields, so I knew that had a great potential to gravitate – pardon the pun – back to an earlier section of the poem.  I knew each section was done when I could no longer see the seams where the poems were knit together, but I could still feel the strain against them.

AJG:  Could you tell us a little bit about your writing process?

JRB:   I read drafts aloud to my cat.  A lot

AJG:  Who are your ‘go-to’ authors, or specific books that you reach for when you’re in a crunch?

JRB:  It utterly depends on the type of the crunch, but Elizabeth Bishop, Brenda Hillman, Sina Queyras, Lucie Brock Broido, and Alice Notley are among the constants.

AJG:  What upcoming projects do you have on the horizon?

JRB:  I have been working on – dare I say completing? – a full length manuscript which imagines both Voyager One and Two as they grapple with the ethical and intimate limitations of the interstellar mission.  I’m also beginning a project which explores the intersections of haunting, anxiety, and girlhood.

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Jessica Rae Bergamino is the author of The Desiring Object or Voyager Two Explains to the Gathering of Stars How She Came to Glow Among Them(Sundress Publications, 2016), The Mermaid, Singing (dancing girl press, 2015), and Blue in All Things: a Ghost Story (dancing girl press, 2015).  Individual poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Salt Hill, Willow Springs, The Journal, Gulf Coast, The Offing, Colorado Review, and The Cincinnati Review. She is pursuing a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing at The University of Utah, where she is poetry editor for Quarterly West. 

Adam J. Gellings is a poet from Columbus, Ohio. He is currently a PhD student in English at SUNY Binghamton & he received a MFA in Creative Writing from Ashland University. You can find his work in Quarter After Eight, Rust + Moth & forthcoming in Post Road Magazine.

 

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